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Health Team

Rabies vaccine: supply short, cost rising

Posted October 22, 2008 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2008 7:41 p.m. EDT

— The cost of getting a rabies vaccine in North Carolina is more than it used to be because of a shortage.

It cost Christine Haynes $8,000 when she decided to get the vaccine as a preventative measure because she was uncertain if she had been bitten by a bat while vacationing in Minnesota.

Rabies can be transmitted through a bite or contact with a rabid animal's saliva. In Haynes' case, she wasn't aware a bat had been in her cabin; and because bats have tiny teeth, it's not always possible to see an actual wound.

A shortage of the vaccine meant that a hospital emergency room was the only place she could get the vaccine – and only if the state veterinarian approves it.

Before the shortage, anyone who was at even a remote risk of having had contact with a rabid animal could get the vaccine, says WakeMed Cary emergency physician Dr. Michael Utecht.

"We were kind of knee-jerk, giving it just to sort of cover ourselves," he said.

The vaccine includes a gamaglobulin shot – with the amount based on weight – and a series of five rabies shots spaced out over four weeks.

Getting the vaccine before symptoms appear is the only way to treat for rabies. If not treated, the disease can prove fatal.

Insurance covered most of Haynes' emergency room bill. If available at a county health department or urgent care center, however, the shots would have been less expensive – and easier to arrange.

The shortage makes it more expensive and less convenient, but for Haynes, no less important.

"I feel fortunate that it was available for me," she said.